Friday, October 22, 2010

Korea - First Impressions

Korea – First Impressions

Flying into Inchon Airport was really beautiful. I didn’t realize how many little islands surrounded the Korean peninsula until then. There were big textured mounds of green covering hillsides. We landed and went to the gate. I went to baggage claim to find my two suitcases (one overweight) and my two Rubbermaid tubs. My baggage was almost first down the carousel. How often does that happen? I remember far more times when it seemed that my bags came down almost last! I had two carts and was doing my best to load them with my aforementioned items as well as my laptop case and my carry-on luggage. A Korean Airlines employee came over and helped me to load my luggage on one cart and then drove the cart over the area where I was to collect Ruby. She was delivered almost straight away and then I carried her less than ten feet to a desk where a woman examined Ruby’s rabies immunization documentation, her health certificate from her veterinarian and took a look at my passport. That was it! I was free to go. Certainly this was a far different situation than both Lydia and I had experienced in China when we brought Ruby and Eva in.

I headed out of the baggage and customs area and found a sign with my name on it! That was “Shawn” who was there to collect me. We waited for another family who had two cats who were also on the same plane that I had been on from Seattle. Then we went to get another woman who had flown in from Los Angeles. Less than an hour later we were heading to the bus, my luggage going every which way and sliding into the traffic because the bags are so hard-sided. This happened twice but they were none the worse for wear. We took one of the KIS school busses across a beautiful new bridge. The water and islands as well as the peninsula were so fresh and green looking. We drove for about an hour to arrive at our apartments. “Joseph” took Bridget and me in to the ‘Paragon B” while Shawn took the family to their apartment. After having been traveling for about 18 or 10 hours it was difficult to pay attention to all of the details that Joseph had to go over with us. We had to learn how to use the keyless entry into the building, then took the elevator to the 23rd floor where my apartment was located. The entry is also keyless, but is operated by a numeric key pad. The number had to be reset to a number of my choice. Then I had to practice the sequence of keys and the proper direction to pull the handle. I about passed out when I saw the apartment. It was at least twice as small as I had envisioned! The furniture was reminiscent of very inexpensive things that are available if an IKEA isn’t in the area! Ugly and small! It made me feel a bit overwhelmed and sad. My thoughts where of the nature of “Where am I going to put the things that I just brought in with me, and what am I going to do when the rest of the things that I shipped will arrive?! Then Joseph gave me my $1200 settling money which cheered me up a bit. After Joseph left I started to move furniture. Apparently a cat had lived here before and Ruby wanted to tear the place up to find it! I was glad that the school had given us some start up gifts since my bedding was still being shipped, and it was nice to have dishes, glasses, utensils and some food to start out with. I hopped into the shower (in the tiny, but very clean bathroom to rinse off the travel dirt. Then I sat by the window and fixed cushions for Ruby to sit on so that she could see out of the window. Watching cars from that height certainly must lack the excitement that barking at dogs and cats in the Laurelhurst house had for her. Still, I was thrilled that the windows were low enough that she could see out. Our view is of some other high rises, some lower buildings (some of which are reputed to be love hotels) bedecked with bright neon lights, some roof top gardens, the main freeway north and south complete with a toll booth, and not far beyond that two beautiful ridges of hills covered in the same lovely greenery that I saw when I was flying in, with another mountain ridge visible when it is clear.

The next day was a bit fuzzy since I had a sinus headache and jetlag. We went to the school to check our email and then later went on our first shopping trip to EMart. We were pretty surprised at how expensive everything was. One of the teachers compared prices to those in Hawaii. The quality of the bedding wasn’t very good and the prices were exceedingly high. Still, even in the US things can be expensive too, especially if one doesn’t know about Target or Walmart. To obtain a shopping cart one must put a 100 won coin into a little slot that releases the cart from the next one that it is chaned to. The cart that I had was very heavy and listed badly to the left. It seemed that a number of the carts were like that so I did the best that I could by alternately pushing and pulling it and even pushing it from the left side.

That evening after unpacking my purchases I took Ruby for a walk in my neighborhood. It is a very upscale area and there are some expensive restaurants and nice shops in the area. A few people had their dogs out and I spotted a Bichon across the street. I realized that the dog wasn’t on a leash which worried me a bit because of the traffic. When the pedestrian walk light turned to green the young woman who was its owner had the dog stand on its hind legs. Then the dog put a paw in her owner’s hand and they crossed the street together. What a clever trick! It was really just adorable! As Bichons used to be famous as circus dogs in Europe I could see how one might be trained to do this.

Ruby has really enjoyed her walks. Despite the heat and humidity, tongue hanging out a bit, she gets a big smile on her face and forges ahead. When she gets tired she asks me to pick her up and enjoys her walk from that vantage point. A lot of attention is directed towards her, and I suppose most dogs here. Of course crème colored dachshunds are not often seen so her unusual breed also attracts attention. Many people want to pet her, which isn’t something that she likes very well, although she is learning to tolerate a pat or two. Last night when we were walking by the river on the walking path (there is also a biking path, both of which go all the way to Seoul (which is either ½ hour away or 1 ½ hours away by subway depending on whom one talks to) we saw beautiful golden fireflies above the marsh grasses. Later we also saw some that were either a dark navy or black color with some white bands. There are trees such as pine, willow, and something that has a similar leaf structure and shape to a cherry tree, although the cut edges of the leaves are far more frequent and compact than on the cherry trees that I am familiar with. The cicadas make quite a cacophony in the trees, and their song seems to still as I approached the trees that they were resting in.There are other plants and grasses and some day lilies and a small growing yellow gold color that reminds me of a cosmos. and lovely flowers that looked like a cross between a hollyhock and a hibiscus….saw them in China along the highways in a few places.

Walking along the river is pretty, and quite a contrast to the high rise buildings that line the streets on both sides. Many people walk, jog, or ride their bikes. I saw one young woman riding her bicycle with her dog in a front pack like Ruby’s. It gave me an idea! I also saw about eight men running in formation. It seemed like they must be a running team.

One day Ruby and I were walking past a car dealership. It was very early in the morning…around 6 or 7, and I noticed that all of the salesmen, dressed in grey slacks and white dress shirts were in formation in the showroom doing calesthentics. Very impressive. Another day when we walked by, again, earl y in the morning, they were armed with mops and brooms to clean the showroom, again in their dress clothes. As we walked along I noticed that we were shaded by some ginko trees, which made me feel very happy and lucky! They are one of my favorite trees.

Next day back to the school for some general welcoming from the admin staff then a scavenger hunt to learn the buildings…. Got our new laptops, had some complications with my name being misspelled, got my iron that was supposed to me in my flat (possibly a subtle or not so subtle hint about dress code), and then we loaded up to go to COSTCO. What a three ring circus!! Packed with people going up and down isles like there was a fire sale! Home to unpack all of our purchases – the very expensve cherries I purchased were from Wenachee Washingon! No wonder they were so expensive.!

Korea has a very sophisticated recycling program. One must purchase a cherry colored plastic bag which is only a little larger and stronger that a normal grocery store plastic bag for about $1. These bags are for general debris that doesn’t fit one of the many recycling categories. The price is to offset the disposal of unrecycleable materials, I’ve been told. There are about 6-7 stations in the recycling area and one can only guess what is to go where by what is already there since the signs are, of course, in Korean. The most interesting recycling area is that of compostable garbage. There is a small unit in the kitchen sink that looks like a shallow garbage disposal. When one finds the lid it is placed over the hole and turned. This spins whatever solid garbage is in this recess until the water has spun out of it. Then one may put their peels, pits, rice scraps and so on into a small covered container (if one remembered to buy one) which one takes, rather soon, to the garbage bin to dispose of. Yes, it does have a definite smell, but I guess it is the smell of doing one’s’ part in the recycling effort. Until the school sends someone to clean out my tiny storage closet I won’t be able to organize my recycling better. It is a tiny area that one can store things in…such as suitcases, however not my Rubbermaid bins since they are too wide. It will eventually also house my vacuum cleaner, drying rack, mops, cleaning supplies and perhaps even a bicycle if I buy one.

On Friday night we went out with the rest of the new staff to a place that the administration chose. We waited for the bus in our usual spot (here we must walk about a block and a half to catch the school bus because it cannot stop in front of the school. It was humorous to me that we went so far to an American style place that served bad pub food. I was really looking forward to some authentic Korean cuisine. Still it was fun to go out socially with the other new staff members and get to know them better. On the way home one of the young teachers showed us a food stand that had tasty treats (I tried a fish cake strip on a stick server with a little cup of fish broth! Yum! And she also showed us a tiny 24 hour restaurant on the corner that has local food available to eat in or take out. I think that I may get to know that place better as it will be very convenient to stop on the way from work to get a quick supper.

Yesterday, Saturday, Bridget and I took the subway (which has a less user friendly system than the one in Shanghai…still need to work on that) to Lotte Mart and dragged heavy bags home….we also found Zara and Louis Vittion, as well as Burberry and other designer shops. Of course I couldn’t pass up the sale that Zara was having and got a very pretty deep golden colored skirt and two of their very nice tank tops. When we went into Lotte we saw little lockers for storing ones other shopping bags in. I had seem this in China so wasn’t too surprised, although I stuffed my Zara bag into my purse, but what did surprise me were several other lockers that had rather large ventilation holes AND pictures of dogs on them! Apparently one may bring their dog to the store, but the pet must be put into the locker at the entrance!! What a surprise. Ruby would go beserk in an arrangement like that!

Last night we took a new walk across the river and to the south a bit. I had heard that there was a more local village over on that side of the river and wanted to check it out. Yes, it was true. It was enjoyable to walk past low apartment buildings, perhaps three stories high, and see some of the local shops. There was a high proportion of automotive shops and building supply shops in that small area, along with many small restaurants. There was a soccer field an the south end which was being enjoyed by some young men. It was pleasant to get away from the high rise, big city scene and only about 10 minutes away!

I finally got my computer out and started to write despite worries about the converter box… (using my own Dell for personal writings) and still no internet connection!

I also decided to try the espresso maker that Lydia had brought me from Italy about 14 years ago. It is very nice to have it since I don’t plan to buy a coffee/espresso maker like I had at home! No space for it! Though the apartment is tiny tiny tiny I am adjusting to it….so quick to clean. It is curious that in only three and a half days I am adjusting to the space. It is also a good motivator to get out and see the area. In the dead of winter though, I wonder how I will feel. No doubt by that time I will be well adjusted!

The aircon has been on 24/7 due to heat and humidity….no rain yet after three days, but very overcast today. In exploring my building I discovered a very nice patio area on the 4th floor that I could sit in with Ruby and read. There is an oversized washer and dryer on the 4th floor also, but only one for 30 floors of people! …but I still can’t find the drycleaner! Supposedly it is in one of the passageways between buildings.

Today is Sunday. I tried to call home using the phone card that the school gave us, but somehow used up half of the time allotted on the card by apparently using the wrong country code! I would double check on my computer but I don’t have internet access yet! I want to go on a walk with Ruby to look for an EMart that looks like is about ten blocks away! It will be a test on me following the map accurately.

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